I did a quick update to the header over the weekend, for two reasons: one, people who didn’t know what it was said the mill looked phallic, and two, the argument continues in city hall over the implications of the mill on the city seal, and I’d rather not get in the middle of it with my header. Some people in Berlin don’t want to be known for the mill, and some do. I can go either way, so I’ll opt for the less controversial option.
The header still needs work, but I like it. I’d appreciate any feedback you’ve got, on the site or the header, or, as always, on the goings on in Berlin.
Speaking of the goings on, I spent a good chunk of Friday at the PUC building in Concord listening to petitioners and CPD argue about CPD’s proposal. A bit of Berlin was down that way for the hearing too, and there were some interesting discussion. CPD said it would be fully bonded, so that once construction started they would have the money to finish it, even though the city hadn’t insisted on it. Mayor Grenier asked the SEC to respect the local process, which he said did a good job vetting this project. He also raised some interesting points about the Fraser mill, and who could support its longterm viability. Neither CPD or Laidlaw could, he said, because their fate is approaching rapidly. They have weeks, not years, to find a path forward, he said.
That seems right on. It appeared a bit of a dig to the arguments CPD was making about how review would delay them coming to rescue Fraser, but it’s unclear what anyone can do to make the plant viable. I don’t know about wood, paper or the industry, but paper companies don’t seem long for the Northeast. I hope someone can change that, but I’m not holding my breath.
My wife and I were discussing what the future for the county could become last night, and what methods could resurrect the region. Can that growth happen locally, I asked, or does it have to be imported?
I grew up in a small town in a small state, and I would not be happy to move “home.” But I moved to a small town in a small state, and I work in another small community. There is something in youth that wants to free itself from what it knows, even if it winds up somewhere almost exactly like where it knows.
I’ve argued before on here that Berlin needs to retain its youth, but after the discussion last night I think that’s wrong. Berlin needs to recruit youth, not retain youth. The best and brightest should leave the area. That’s what any parent wants their child to do. And as long as there are an equal number of people of a similar age migrating to the area it doesn’t matter. The essence is to keep the population demographics the same.
I can list several young people who went away, got educated and came home to Coös County. Samantha Kenney Maltais, for one, keeps coming back to educate people about Grand branding. The city planner, Pam Laflamme, invested in herself and brought that investment home.
But the vast majority of young people with creativity and vision come from somewhere else. They are running away from small towns in Maine, Connecticut, New York in the same way that kids are running away from Berlin, Groveton and Stark. The problem, thus far, is that Coös County is a net exporting region.
But it answers a fundamental question about how to solve the problem: do you try to convince the kids of Berlin they want to come back, or do you put your efforts elsewhere?
If I were a parent I wouldn’t want my kids to stay, but that isn’t a function of being in Berlin. Even in Conway, where I live, my friends who have lived there all their lives consider it a dump, while people who moved there think it’s great. There is a lack of perspective when one place is all you know, and whether they are my kids or not I would encourage them to explore.
But for people from away, this place holds something different. Perhaps that’s why some of the most ardent supporters of change in Berlin, from Katie Paine to Councilors McCue and Cayer, are from somewhere else, even if that place is very much like here.
The kids in the area need support, and programs that open them up to other experiences are invaluable, but the goal should be on how to get them to explore, not on how they will become the next North Country. The next North Country, like it or not, will be built of people relocating from away. When the federal prison arrives there will be a wave of changes and new faces, representing the start of what’s next. Berlin is going to have to fight to preserve its heritage, but at the same time it will likely be swept upward by the effects.
I went to a fire scene today up in Dummer, and spoke to a man who just lost the house he’d lived in since 1941. He cried as he told me how kind people have been. I was struck then, as I often am north of the notch, at his willingness to speak to me, a stranger, and at the amount of support that was gathered in his son’s kitchen. Those characteristics are hard to maintain in the 21st century as communities become more and more, and it is an asset Coös County doesn’t yet know how to capitalize on. Unlike many other places around the state and the country, that community has a long way to go before it is diluted.
Berlin still attracts people to come home. No one likes the poor people Berlin has attracted, but the city has also attracted civic-minded people. Think about Councilor Landry, who moved to Berlin with his wife and two kids. People of all types move here for what Berlin offers, and it is likely that trend will continue.
But be prepared; the changes might be rough. With revitalization comes destruction, if of nothing else than of the ways that were the standard before. I don’t see much change of Berlin remaining the quiet, insulated community it is no matter what. The prison will bring new people, the NSP program will create new houses, and the ATV trail will bring new business. Unless Berlin never turns around it will likely sacrifice some of the characteristics that make it so special.
I imagine Conway was once that way—a sleepy town where everyone knew everyone. What progress means depends on your definition, and in Berlin whether you want it depends on your connections to the past. I am looking forward to seeing the city grow, but my history here doesn’t run deep. As each new resident moves in and each grown child decides to leave, little by little Berlin rises up and changes forever. I love watching it. Do you?